Speed­way in Ja­pan

Kent Ste­wart from WA re­cently vis­ited a speed­way with a dif­fer­ence…

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

I had a fan­tas­tic day out at the Kawaguchi Au­torace track on the out­skirts of Tokyo. We were up here vis­it­ing my son and his wife and meet­ing our new grand-daugh­ter. The rac­ing is re­ally ex­cit­ing and the Kawaguchi Au­torace fa­cil­ity is in­cred­i­ble. The sta­dium will seat 44,000 peo­ple. The track is a 500 me­tre oval with beau­ti­fully sculp­tured gar­dens on the in­field. They run 8 rid­ers to a race over six laps. You have to see it in per­son to get an idea how fast they race and how close they are to each other. There’s no brakes but also no slide or wheel spin to slow down for cor­ners like on dirt. You can hear them all throt­tle off slightly go­ing into the cor­ners then they all wind it on once they’re in the cor­ners. Pass­ing is con­sid­ered “hon­ourable” on the out­side. There’s plenty of track room to do this, with an­other 10 me­tres of runoff to the crash bar­ri­ers which is two thick­nesses of cy­clone mesh about 500mm apart.

The rid­ers wear what looks like grid­iron shoul­der ar­mour and coloured shirts over the top of their Kevlar suits. It’s very pro­fes­sional. I didn’t see any crashes or false starts. Races run to a sched­ule like horse rac­ing. They get warm up laps for the tyres be­fore each race. Then the starts are done off a five se­cond count­down clock. Rid­ers are hand­i­capped at 10 me­tre spac­ings but un­like speed­way hand­i­caps the back mark­ers don’t get a sneaky rolling start. The starts are pretty awe­some and the en­tries into cor­ners are re­ally fast. No room for the faint hearted. The only down­side to the game is that it’s a heavy gam­bling scene which de­tracts from the at­mos­phere. Some peo­ple don’t even watch the races, just sit in lit­tle the­atrettes watch­ing the screens giv­ing the re­sults and odds. As a con­se­quence all the rid­ers, up to 96 of them, are kept in dor­mi­to­ries at the track for the en­tire four-day meet­ing to pre­vent any “tam­per­ing”. A bit sad re­ally. They’ve got a bike mu­seum at the track which is re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Most of the en­gines there have never been seen be­fore. Me­guros seem to have dom­i­nated the sport for many years but now the dom­i­nant engine is the AR600- a Suzuki twin DOHC of 599cc. The bikes them­selves seem to be a fairly stan­dard de­sign with di­a­monds and engine plates like speed­way bikes, rigid rear ends and tele­scopic forks with crazy asym­met­ric han­dles bars. They’ve got two speed gear boxes but race in one gear. No to­tal loss lube oil sys­tems for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. The frames have leg brace bars on the right side of the di­a­mond to lock their legs in – a guaranteed leg

breaker on an­cient speed­way bikes. As a con­se­quence they’ve got a strange rid­ing style, seated up­right, no left hand peg at all. The mu­seum was fas­ci­nat­ing- a col­lec­tion of bikes back to the pre 1960s. Three dif­fer­ent mod­els of Me­guros (the old­est two are sin­gle cylin­der jobs) now made by Kawasaki, Hasekawas, Toyos, SEARs (the AR600), Kyoku­tos, and one Tri­umph 600 twin (don’t know where that came from). The older en­gines are sin­gles, some pushrod types, but they adopted OHC fairly early on. All the mod­ern en­gines are 600 OHC twins. There are a few mys­ter­ies too. There’s a sin­gle that had no cap­tion sign on it. It’s got a badge on the cam drive cover with an “H” in­side a di­a­mond. Any clues? There’s also a pre1960 Me­guro 359cc sin­gle – that’s what the cap­tion sign said but some web­sites show pic­tures of this engine as a Kyokuto. There is an in­ter­est­ing side story to this old engine. I think it was the same type that was used in Aus­tralia in a Hagon short cir­cuit frame. I’m pretty sure Ge­off Owens from the St Ge­orge club in Syd­ney bor­rowed one of these en­gines from his mate, took it to Ta­ree and broke it badly on the start line. Also dis­played is a Hasegawa 660cc twin. I think this is the same as the one Barry Briggs took back to Eng­land for his col­lec­tion. And how the Tri­umph got in there I don’t know. I couldn’t get close to the ac­tion for the pho­tos of races I took, but you can see how close it is and the width of the track. When I was up there I won­dered how these bikes would go against proper road rac­ing bikes. I soon found out on YouTube (see https://youtu.be/dEYEn_fpv-4). This is an ex­hi­bi­tion race with two Suzuki GSXRs off the front row, two Su­per­mo­tos back 10 me­tres and an Au­torace bike off the back mark. He rounded up the Su­per­mo­tos in two laps and the Moto GP bikes in 5 laps, all with out­side passes, in­cred­i­ble.

Story and Mu­seum pho­tos: Kent Ste­wart Rac­ing pho­tos: Au­toRace .JKA Foun­da­tion (Face­book) Me­guro 663 engine.

Me­guro MF 600 sin­gle. ABOVE The mys­tery engine. ABOVE RIGHT Hasegawa 660 twin. BE­LOW Lone Tri­umph among the Ja­panese bikes. Lean low and left.

In­cred­i­ble asym­met­ri­cal han­dle­bars.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.